It’s been two months since the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the world, but the confusion over the use of masks still remains.
With cases being reported in equal numbers every day, who is actually supposed to masks? The World Health Organisation (WHO) answered this in detail on Monday (March 30), saying that it was essential for those diagnosed with the disease, besides their caregivers or those taking care of COVID-19 patients.
The WHO said it had also advised health workers to use masks as they are in the forefront of taking care of those infected, with a higher risk of exposure to the virus every single second. Those with symptoms too have been told to wear face masks.
There are two kinds of masks — surgical and the N95 variant, also known as respirators. The former is said to be of little use, as per reports, while the N95 mask has to have a proper seal and should be fitted properly to render a maximum of 99 per cent protection from contracting the virus.
However, these have to be disposed of within hours, as they are not fit for repeated use. But the N95 masks have seen a limited supply across the world, making it crucial for them to be available for health workers.
The WHO has been advising against use of masks by everyone, as it creates a false sense of safety, while other precautions like washing hands frequently and covering nose and mouth, while coughing and sneezing may not be adhered to, as a result.
It, however, has not criticised the countries that have been making use of masks mandatory for its citizens. In the last couple of months, countries like South Korea and Japan have distributed them to the public.
In Europe, The Czech Republic and Slovakia have even made these masks mandatory. In the US, in February, experts had to beg the public not to buy them indiscriminately as they were seen flying off shelves across stores.
COVID-19 spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets that are caused when a person with the virus exhales, coughs, or sneezes. You can contract the virus if you breathe in these droplets, making the use of masks indispensable for those who are in touch with the patients.
Moreover, these droplets also land on various objects or surfaces. Touching a contaminated object or surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth can also lead to infection —meaning that protection has to be complimented with precaution like hand wash, use of alcohol-based sanitiser, etc.
Earlier this month, considering their importance, India had placed the masks (2 ply, 3 ply and N-95) to the list of goods under The Essential Commodities Act and also capped the prices of the products. However, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has cautioned against use of masks by one and all, reiterating WHO’s stand on the topic. Yet, the issue has not been put to rest.
Many Indians generally have the tradition of covering their mouths on various occasions. For instance, Jain monks cover their nose and mouth with a cloth — known as Muhapatti — to prevent microorganisms in the air from entering and getting killed. In some temples, devotees cover their mouths with hands while receiving blessings. Many wash their hands and feet before entering religious establishments.
Recently, a video emerged from Karnataka, in which a cop is seen admonishing Deccan Herald’s Chaitanya Netkalappa for not wearing a mask, as he was seen driving in the city. The Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare Services of Tuesday sent out a circular, cautioning everyone against indiscriminate use of masks.